5 ways to care for yourself when looking after someone who suffers from dementia

If you look after someone who suffers from dementia and feel stressed or anxious, you’re not alone. One recent survey revealed that nine carers in ten feel this way several times a week. What’s more, four-fifths of carers said they struggle to talk about their worries.

It’s not uncommon to feel under immense pressure when looking after a partner, parent or relative with dementia. And, many people feel guilty when they take time out for themselves. However, if you don’t look after yourself, the risk is that you may just burn out – meaning you’ll be less able to provide care long term.

Let’s look at some ways you can manage this difficult situation.

1.      Ask for help

If you are caring full time for someone who suffers from dementia and are feeling highly stressed for long periods, it is important to acknowledge that stress can be a trigger for more serious health conditions. Talk to your physician immediately if you are experiencing symptoms of severe, long-term stress. They will be able to provide advice on how to cope in relation to your personal situation.

2.      Eat well and exercise

Eating a well-balanced diet and exercising on a regular basis can play a big role in helping you when caring for someone who is suffering from dementia. Healthy food will give you all the nutrition you need and even basic exercise – such as a 30-minute walk around the block a couple of times a week – can help clear your mind and boost your overall mood.

3.      Time for yourself each day

When you’re caring for someone with dementia, you may feel the need to be with them at every moment to ensure they don’t feel lonely or accidentally injure themselves. While this is a positive sentiment, it is also valuable for you to take some time alone to refresh – even if it’s just ten minutes a couple of times per day to have a hot drink and listen to the radio. The time spent unwinding can do wonders for your mood and motivation.

4.      Use tech to connect

Thanks to new kinds of technology there’s numerous ways you can keep caring for someone suffering from dementia without having to constantly be in their company. Whether it’s systems that help you control the heating or air conditioning in their home or day clocks which let you remind them of appointments, technology can help you have time for yourself while still caring from a distance.

5.      Mentally detach yourself

It’s not uncommon for people suffering from dementia to become aggressive or rude. At these times it’s vital to detach yourself mentally from the situation – know that it is the illness talking, not the person you know and love. By not taking insults personally, you protect yourself.

How do you give yourself a break when caring for someone with dementia? Leave a reply in the box below.

5 pioneering dementia initiatives

As awareness of dementia becomes more widespread, it’s inspiring to see how individuals, communities and even national organizations are finding new ways to deal with the illness.  Of course we are biased to our own app but we’ve selected five examples of pioneering dementia initiatives which we think show-case a range of different responses to dementia. Think we’ve missed a crucial example out? Let us know in the comments.

Dementia initiatives can be launched by individuals, communities and national or even international organizations. Here are five examples we find inspiring:

  1. Individualized home service

For more than 30 years, Melabev has been a leader in care for seniors in Israel. While the organization runs homes and clubs in major cities like Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, it really stands out for its innovative home care service At Home with Melabev. Clients across the country receive home visits by a team of qualified therapists who are trained and certified in arts, physical fitness, cognitive stimulation and more.

  1. Dementia-trained hair stylists

The hair salon is a natural place to reminisce – and maintaining an individual’s appearance is an important way of boosting their self-confidence. However, many hair stylists struggle to understand the needs of seniors suffering with dementia. And that’s why one hair-dressing school in the UK is now specifically training professional hair stylists to provide a personal service to people suffering from the condition. Read more here.

  1. A dementia-friendly city

The picturesque Belgian city of Bruges launched a city-wide project in 2010 called Together for a dementia-friendly Bruges! – a global first. The initiative received support from the local government and launched a range of activities, including training for storekeepers and their personnel on how to recognize customers who may have dementia and provide an appropriate service. Other cities across the globe have followed Bruges’ example.

  1. Dementia education for children

Many children struggle to comprehend dementia, especially as they see a loving grandparent seemingly change. And so in Australia, the Kids 4 Dementia project has been designed to educate children at public schools about what dementia is, what it feels like to have dementia and provides them with the tools to understand the illness.

  1. Memory cafes

Memory cafes are an innovative way of supporting people who are experiencing early stage dementia. In Appleton, WI, Memory Cafes take place in church halls and other public spaces and provide a space for lively discussions, creative activities and an opportunity to socialize – all while avoiding isolation.

8 great apps for people suffering with dementia

If you care for someone who is living with dementia, there’s an ever-growing list of apps which are designed to help your loved ones deal with their condition. Most modern apps are intuitive, user-friendly, and when used on a tablet are much easier to navigate than a traditional desktop computer with a mouse and separate keyboard.

Let’s explore 8 great apps for people suffering with dementia:

1.    MindMate

Used by over half a million people worldwide, and targeted squarely at the Baby Boomer generation, MindMate provides a wide range of physical and mental activities which aim to reduce the speed of cognitive decline.

2.    It’s Done!

A major worry for people who are living with the early stages of dementia is that they forget whether they have done certain tasks in their daily routine – from locking the front door to taking their meds to turning off the stove. They then have to rush home to double check. It’s Done! aims to help by letting them tick off activities on their daily task list as they do them, so they can be sure that the task was completed.

3.    Spaced Retrieval

Spaced Retrieval utilizes a scientifically proven method of recalling answers to a question over a period of time. This embeds the answer and helps dementia-sufferers remember information for longer.

4.    Amuse IT

It can be a struggle to have meaningful conversations with a dementia patient. Amuse IT aims to help here by providing over 1,000 games which stimulate conversation and sharing of experiences.

5.    YouTube

Packed with endless videos and clips, YouTube is an amazing resource to help dementia patients recall television and music from their past.

6.    RecallCue

Designed to support seniors and their family members, RecallCue provides an easy to use day clock which reminds the person you care for about appointments and other calendar events so they feel more in control of what is going on round them. The app also facilitates interaction between the senior and their children and grandchildren by allowing them to share images and connect throughout the day. (OK we are biased… 🙂

7.    Lumosity

Drawing on decades of scientific research and tests, Lumosity helps delay the onset of dementia by providing powerful cognitive tests and activities to keep the brain stimulated.

8.    House of Memories

This unique app, designed by a museum, draws on images and objects from the past held in the museum’s collection. The House of Memories app allows users to view images from across the decades, sparking memories and helping them talk about these with children and grandchildren.

Learn how RecallCue helps you and the person you care for deal with dementia-related memory loss today.

How Can Dogs Help Alzheimer’s Patients?

When it comes to comprehensive care for patients with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, there are more options now than ever before. Advanced Day Clocks such as RecallCue address one need but others are offering their own innovative solutions. Many families have found respite and support with the aid of canine companions, either as service dogs or therapy dogs. Rover’s in-depth guide covers everything you need to know on the topic:

  • The history and research surrounding service dogs
  • Information about training service and therapy dogs
  • How companion dogs improve patients’ quality of life
  • The role of therapy dogs in assisted-living facilities
  • How to find a support animal

A service dog can help get a patient home in a crisis, call for help, and ensure that the patient never leaves home unaccompanied. The dog’s GPS tracker enables families to quickly locate their loved one, so they don’t get lost. The specific training that these animals receive can have remarkable effects on Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, including improved mood, independence, and confidence. If you or someone you care about is struggling with the limitations caused by this health condition, a service or therapy dog may offer the guidance and support you’ve been seeking.

Are we Cord Cutting TV Away from Seniors with Dementia?

Cord cutting innovations such as Hulu, Netflix, Roku, Sling TV and Amazon have made television watching simpler and cheaper–for most people. For senior citizens, especially those suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s and MCI, these new ways of watching TV are leading to confusion with their new paradigm in navigation and operation. With cable television getting less and less common and more expensive, these seniors are running out of options.

I experienced this first hand with my mother in law.  At 85 and suffering from dementia, she watches only about 2-3 cable channels. Nevertheless, she was paying about $100/month for cable television. I thought this was excessive for the value she was getting, so I invested in a Roku as a way to help her save money. Almost immediately after setting up the Roku, I realized that she was not going to be able to use it and within days I took out the Roku, re-installed cable and she is back to her $75- $100/month bills.

Instead of a familiar “instant on” experience whereby pushing a button leads to an immediate watching experience (and on the last channel viewed Roku (and from my experience all cord cutting solutions) present the user with a menu. From there, you need to navigate to your profile, then your genre, then your show. This (understandably) confused my mother-in-law greatly, and proved too great a barrier to overcome. After decades of “push button = watch TV” there was just no way I was going to teach her to use the remote to navigate through endless menus. For someone suffering from dementia it’s not a matter of education- it’s a cognitive impossibility.  I had been through a similar challenge with my mother in law and other technologies and that led me to create RecallCue, a connected dementia day clock, but I was not going to re-create TV.

This experience got me thinking. Seniors represent a huge portion of the television industry’s target group. According to The Washington Post, “Audiences for the major broadcast network shows are much older and aging even faster, with a median age of 53.9 years old, up 7 percent from four years ago.” And yet, there are very few devices in place to facilitate the cord cutting experience for seniors.

Younger users can adapt to quickly changing interfaces and remotes, but older users are not going to be comfortable memorizing new configurations and navigations. These changes on how to operate a TV may seem small, but they are enough to make a senior citizen struggle and for seniors with dementia or other memory impairment they are absolute “show stoppers”.

Many senior citizens are unable to easily leave their homes, and rely on television to access the weather, stay on top of the news, and be alerted of any emergencies. Televisions often serve as the primary or only entertainment elderly citizens have in their home. Senior citizens need TV, and cord cutting trends are taking it away from them.

Cable companies, as well as new TV tools like Roku and Amazon Fire Stick need to be aware of the needs of their senior users so that they can make the necessary adaptations. These changes are relatively easy to implement, and I believe that they would increase the consumer base of these new technologies tremendously by including senior friendly options to their offering. Something as easy as a “traditional mode” would make a huge difference in the ease of use for someone who has spent 30 years watching TV a certain way.

  1. The on button should turn the TV on- This might sound ridiculous, but more often than not, these days there is not one simple on button that turns the television on to an actual TV channel. Whether it’s Netflix or traditional cable, elderly users need to be able to turn on the big red button and see the TV show or channel they were watching last, otherwise, many will not know how to proceed. This is how TV worked for 50 years, and it’s extremely confusing to change it.
  2. Channel surfing – users should not be required to stop/pause a program, exit, go back several times to a main menu and navigate a never-ending list of programs to change the channel. Providers should allow for a  familiar up and down arrow button to move ahead or back in the channel list.
  3. Cheaper options from traditional cable– Cable companies should offer minimalist packages with only the channels needed and reduce the price of the packages. This has long been a complaint against the cable companies and the single biggest contribution to the cord-cutting phenomenon. Seniors who are unable to use newer pay by channel cord cutting technologies are hit the hardest and have no option other than shelling out for huge cable bills.
  4. Intuitive, simple remotes– To their credit the remotes provided by Roku and Amazon are much more minimalist then those of the cable companies. Unfortunately, the layouts and options are synced with the new menu/profile options on the devices. These companies should support a remote control layout that is familiar and intuitive with On/Off, Channel Up/ Channel Down and Volume controls.

When it comes to reaching an elderly audience, the key is to simplify and keep things traditional. Innovation is great, but it’s not always great for everyone. Cord cutting companies are in a unique position to help the senior population – especially those suffering from dementia. By introducing a “simple” mode to their products that mimics the TV experience seniors are used to, these companies will go a long way to bringing affordable ad manageable TV entertainment to this population

Can music therapy really help dementia patients?

A few months ago a close friend sent me a video entitled “Gait training for Parkinson’s patient using music”. The video documents a mid-late Parkinson’s patient struggling to walk with his aid – until the music starts. Suddenly the walker is abandoned and the patient seems to break into a dance like motion humming along to the music. At first I was skeptical. Yes, I have heard about and read  much of the research showing the benefits of music for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, but this seemed extreme… until I witnessed for myself the  power of music as a means of therapy for dementia patients.

 

My mother in law had recently suffered a fall and was in the hospital awaiting surgery on hip. Being both in pain and in unfamiliar surroundings she was understandably agitated and non-cooperative with the nursing staff. We were really at a loss and then I remembered the above-mentioned video. I took out my phone and started playing some Frank Sinatra songs. The effect was instantaneous. It was if my mother in law had just received a sedative and the nurses were able to proceed and prep my mother in law for her surgery. While not every dementia patient will respond the same there are enough first-hand stories out there to attest to its benefits.

Why and what stages of dementia benefit most from music is still up for debate but here are some of the major theories.

 

  1. Music triggers memories from youth – According to neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks, “”Music evokes emotion, and emotion can bring with it memory… it brings back the feeling of life when nothing else can.” This seems to be backed up by data presented in a 2010 Boston University study that showed that music has the power to unlock past memories more then other means. This same study was also one of the first to claim that music is not only beneficial for recalling past memories, it actually can help dementia patients process and retain new information.
  2. Music acts as a calming agent evoking positive emotions. Agitation is a well-known side effect of dementia. There is much discussion as to the mid to long term benefits of music on reversing the agitation brought on by dementia. In a paper published in January 2010 several clinical trials are reviewed. Most studies presented seem to indicate significant short-term calming effects but limited mid-long term effects. “The researchers found that while music therapy reduced agitated behaviors, including anxiety, irritability and restlessness, these improvements were not present in the findings 1 month after the sessions, implying the effects of music therapy did not last 1 month.”
  3. Music has a neurological effect on the brain. “Dr. Maggie Haertsch, CEO of the Arts Health Institute, “the music awakens a part of the brain not impacted by dementia and evokes responses, such as singing and movement, and brief moments of re-connection with loved ones.” In another study conducted back in 1986 it was found that music evoked a response that was measurable in physiological changes such as respiratory rates and maxiofacial movement. Additional studies concluded that “increases the chance of activating neurological pathways that language alone cannot.”
  4. Active singing as opposed to passive listening provides the greatest benefit for moderate to severe dementia patients. According to a 2013 study presented at the Society for Neuroscience, “Musical aptitude and music appreciation are two of the last remaining abilities in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease.” After analyzing groups of patients who both participated in active and non-active music sessions. “…data show that participation in an active singing program for an extended period of time can improve cognition in patients with moderate to severe dementia.”

There is much research still to be done on this topic but there is an overwhelming amount of both clinical and anecdotal evidence to suggest that music has a real benefit for people with dementia. At RecallCue we are committed to introducing new features that will take advantage of music and transform our connected Day Clock into a hub for music therapy. It will be exciting to see how others use this research to produce assistive technologies that use music as a form of therapy.

Robots as a tool for combating loneliness

I came across this article today and it got me thinking about the use of technology in general and robots in particular for improving quality of life for dementia and MCI patients.

 

On the one hand the problem is real. Given the realities of life, children can’t be full time caregivers and connected health devices have a real place. On the other hand the thought of replacing human interaction and companionship with a robot is alarming. We seem to be reducing loneliness down to a chemical reaction. I can see a day soon where we will be prescribing a drug to counter the loneliness brain function. Problem solved!? Do robots have their place? Sure, personally I think replacing the human floor washer with an iRobot is a great use. Replacing a child or caregiver – not so much. At RecallCue we are looking to create devices that facilitate human interaction with the elderly – not replace it.

RecallCue – Digital Memory Aid

It’s with mixed emotions that I announce the release of RecallCue, a digital memory aid for families caring for a loved one with MCI (Mild Cognitive Impairment) or early stage dementia.

As with any product release I have been involved with over my last 10+ years as a Product/Project Manager, there is great satisfaction and excitement in seeing a concept come to fruition. The countless hours of design, architecture and functionality discussions; the back and forth with potential users; the last minute go-no-go decision. All this leading up to “the big moment” when everything is in place and ready to launch. In the past, with other products, I would participate in post launch celebrations and high fives to the team. But this time is different. This time the product idea came to me out of personal need.

For the last 4 years our extended family has been caring for my mother-law who suffers from dementia. I witness every day the challenges my mother-in-law and the family face. On the one hand even the most basic things such as knowing what day of the week or time of day it is can’t be taken for granted. On the other hand the reality of life and geography don’t allow for everyone to have the level of communication and involvement they would like. In Product Management we call this identifying the “pain point” of the customer. Unfortunately the pain that family members experience caring for someone with dementia is very real and all to obvious. The statistics on the growth rate of dementia and Alzheimer’s are staggering. It is estimated that every 4 seconds someone new is diagnosed.

I am not naive in thinking that RecallCue will cure or even slow down the effects of dementia (see recent post by Rachael Wonderlin on this topic http://bit.ly/2rDZ1dX). Like many technologies I truly believe that when used with the right “customer” it can provide real benefits.

1)     It’s true, a person with late stage Dementia will not benefit from a Day Clock (a popular aid for knowing time of day and day of week), but someone who is in early stages or pre-diagnose can (and based on my research does) benefit greatly from this simple tool.

2)     The comfort and accessibility given to the family members, especially those who may live out of town is immeasurable. No, “Bubby” may not remember the beautiful picture of her great-grandson that was posted early this morning, but I happened to be there when it was and saw the smile on her face and joy it brought to her at that moment.

So, unlike past product releases- this one is bittersweet at best. I am satisfied knowing that I and my business partner, Ephraim Tabackman, may be able to help bring a smile – even for a moment – to someone else’s grandparent but at the same time I am frightened by the number of people this product may help.